Force is the weapon of the weak: decrying the right's violent rhetoric

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This shot of Sarah Palin wielding a weapon during a trip to Kuwait is used on lots of right-wing websites -- disturbingly.

American political discourse is being poisoned by some truly scary rhetoric from the right-wing, which is increasingly resorting to threats and condoning of violence, a trend that has played out in recent weeks right here on the Guardian’s Politics blog. Now is the time to recognize and stop it, just as a new coalition is calling for

San Francisco resident Greg Lee Giusti was arraigned in federal court this morning for making threatening phone calls to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, one day after the arrest of Charles Alan Wilson for threatening to kill Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). In both cases, the subject was the recent health care reform bill, the anger of the suspects stoked by misinformation and inflammatory rhetoric from top conservative politicians and media figures, as well as the Tea Party movement.

But these cases – along with the recent domestic terrorism plot by Christian fundamentalists and other incidents of overt and implied threats of violence – aren’t isolated examples; they are closer to the norm of rhetoric emanating from the right-wing these days, a trend not seen in this country since the months that led up to the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building by right-wing radical Timothy McVeigh, the biggest act of domestic terrorism before 9/11.

Consider Giusti, who also wrote a scary letter to me and the Guardian in the midst of his threats against Pelosi, taking issue with our recent cover story that was critical of police crackdowns on SF nightlife. In additional to praising police violence and encouraging cops to “crack a few skulls open,” just like his NYPD cop uncle, who “knows how to inflect [sic] excruciating Paine [sic] on someone without leaving any signs of what happened.”

But Giusti was far from alone in promoting violence over the issues we’ve raised. SFPD Southern Station Capt. Daniel McDonough praised the sometimes-violent tactics of the two undercover cops who bust parties and nightclubs, strongly implying those tactics were justified to counter the unspecified threats of violence that nightclubs represent. “Because of their diligence and professionalism the amount of violence and disorder has been reduced,” McDonough wrote, echoing a troubling strain of right-wing political thought that condones violence to prevent even speculative threats of violence, a perspective that led us to invade Iraq.

And when I wrote about McDonough's response yesterday, a commenter wrote that aggressive police tactics are justified because, “The unprecedented ascendancy of nightclubs and violation of the Constitutional rights of residents to peaceful use of their property calls for drastic measures.”

In a similar vein, our blog post this week on a newly released video of American soldiers in a helicopter opening fire on a crowd in Baghdad that included journalists and children while making disturbing comments that seemed to relish the opportunity to kill people also provoked some equally disturbing comments.

“So a couple of journalists embedded with terrorists killing Americans got wiped out...congrats to the shooters! A couple of terrorists in training got shot up in a terrorist rescue attempt...congrats to the shooters! Everyone on scene who died got what was coming to them,” one wrote, while another warned, “Raise a weapon against America or Americans and prepare to experience the worst day in the rest of your life. Hoowa!”

Even though the helicopter was miles away and the video showed no credible threats toward it or anyone else, supporters of the war seemed to think that quickly resorting to violence is acceptable. “This is the price we pay for are [sic] freedom. put yourself in that chopper and then put yourself on the ground they all no [sic] what can and will happen. It will happen at home again 911 just give it time. We will do are [sic] best to defend are [sic] country. GOD BLESS USA.”

And I will do my best to defend this country from right-wing extremists. That effort starts with challenging Sarah Palin’s winking exhortation for her followers to “lock and load,” and with letting commentators like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly, on a nightly basis, cast liberals as enemies of the state to their well-armed listeners.

This is simply not OK, a point that’s being made by the prosecutors of Giusti and Wilson, as well as the new Stop Domestic Terrorism campaign by a coalition of organization concerns about the increasing violent rhetoric of the rights. 

"Law abiding Americans do not advocate violence against fellow Americans," campaign spokesperson Brad Friedman said in a public statement. "As Americans, we all need to engage in a vigorous debate of the issues based on facts and reason rather than fear and prejudice.”

But even in San Francisco, it’s common for conservatives and so-called “moderates” to condone violence against the homeless, drug users, petty criminals, ravers, Critical Mass bicyclists, “illegal immigrants,” or others that they dismiss as “getting what’s coming to them” for daring to violate laws or social mores. I’ve personally had violence wished on me more times than I can count, in letters, phone messages, and to my face. 

As a full-time newspaper journalist for almost 20 years, I’ve dealt with right-wing crazies for a long time, but there are times when you can sense their indignation getting ratcheted up to dangerous levels. In 1994, I wrote stories for the Auburn Journal and Sacramento News & Review about right-wing “patriots” and “constitutionalists” that were part of the militia movement in Placer County.

They warned me that then-President Bill Clinton was an agent of the “New World Order” who was plotting a socialist takeover of the “real Americans,” and that violent resistance was necessary. They spun elaborate fantasies about the impending civil war, which they said the federal government had already started with their raids in Ruby Ridge and Waco. 

“You won’t be able to write an article like this anymore because the government will come and kick in your door and murder you and your children,” one militia member told me after my first article came out.

On April 19 of the next year, while I was working for the Santa Maria Times, I remember vividly when the federal building in Oklahoma City was bombed, killing 168 people. For the first 24 hours, most media outlets speculated that it was an attack by terrorists from the Middle East, but as soon as I heard it was the anniversary of the Waco incident, I knew exactly who was really responsible: the dangerous right wing extremism that pushed militia member Timothy McVeigh to attack his own country.

And now, it’s happening again. Overheated rhetoric on the right is casting Pelosi and fellow Democrats not just as political opponents, but as dangerous enemies of the “real Americans” that Palin claims to champion. They have, like Wilson said of Murray, “ a target on her back.”

When Sen. Leland Yee tried to find out how much Palin was being paid to speak at California State University-Stanislaus, he was aggressively attacked by her acolytes for trying to “take away her constitutional right to free speech,” according to an anonymous message left on his answering message yesterday, which his office shared with the Guardian. “Maybe we ought to have a homosexual with a long enough dick so he can stick it up his ass and fuck himself while he’s on stage giving a speech.”

Such crass, semi-literate, weirdly homophobic comments might be funny if they weren’t part of a larger, more dangerous trend in this country. Once again, a Democratic president is being actively accused of treasonous hostility to “real Americans” by major conservative figures with huge audiences, and once again, the lunatic fringe is being worked up into a frenzy.

The recently uncovered plot by Michigan militia members to murder police officers in the hopes of starting a holy war with the enemies of Christianity is just one indication for what this kind of rhetoric is leading to in isolated pockets around the country. Now is the time to put a stop to condoning violence in any of its forms, whether it’s cops cracking the skulls of clubbers or street denizens, soldiers firing on crowds of people, or citizens threatening our elected representatives.

“Force is the weapon of the weak,” said the radical pacifist-anarchist Ammon Hennacy, a quote that was often repeated by folk singer and progressive writer Utah Phillips, who I had the honor of covering at the same time I was covering the militia movement. It’s true, and at this difficult moment in our country’s history, let’s all try to stay strong.  

Comments

I read an article once, where a Liberal molested a child.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 08, 2010 @ 4:51 pm

Gee, what a nicely inflammatory recollection. Until you can provide a source for the article (the author and when and where it was published, for starters), all you've provided is a pile of verbal horse manure.

Posted by Peter on Apr. 16, 2010 @ 3:33 pm

When there is a democratic president the kooky right always gets excited, I would suggest the Politics of Unreason by Lippsett on that subject.

The guy who was just arrested is probably just run of the mill Chris Daly crazy, for some reason crazy people are into extremist conspiracy driven politics. In this city one can find all sorts of borderline people rambling about the conspiracy from the left wondering the streets.

It's when they get together in some sort of group like the Black Panthers or the Weathermen that we should be worried.

Posted by glen matlock on Apr. 08, 2010 @ 5:10 pm

Now where dose the BG lie with this

"Iran appears to have hardened its position on three UC Berkeley graduates who have been held in the country since last summer, accusing them of having links to U.S. intelligence."

They are Berkeley students, but they could be working for the CIA...ohhhhhhhhhhhh

Posted by Guest on Apr. 08, 2010 @ 6:58 pm

Liberalism is a scourge on the civil society.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 08, 2010 @ 8:57 pm

It is imperative we stop this deluge of rhetoric. The discursive formation of our leaders will only serve to demonize our country. Not to mention the ignorance of the likes of such as Sarah Palin. Luckily we have great watch dogs like The San Fransisco Bay Guardian, recently ranked Number 3 for integrity on

www.newspaperintegrity.com

Posted by Guest on Apr. 08, 2010 @ 9:03 pm

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. -- Isaac Asimov, FOUNDATION

Posted by Skip Mendler on Apr. 09, 2010 @ 5:12 am

And here is more info I found throught that website and wikipedia.com.

"Anti-unionism in employment
The Guardian put down an attempt by its employees to unionize in the 1970s. In 1975, Guardian staffers, with the aid of Newspaper Guild Local 52 and International Typographical Union Local 21, signed union cards to seek higher wages and benefits. The paper had previously won a legal settlement and moved to a new building. Nevertheless, publisher Bruce Brugmann claimed there weren't enough funds to increase pay or benefits. The day after Thanksgiving, he fired five senior staffers who had helped organize the union effort. Newspaper staffers voted to join the Newspaper Guild and, on June 15, 1976, they called a strike to force Brugmann to offer a labor contract. Brugmann retained a few management staff and hired scab replacements. In August, Cesar Chavez offered to mediate the strike, but Brugmann refused. Finally, in 1977, another election was called, but this time votes by replacement workers carried the day and the new staff voted not to join a union.[2]"

Posted by Guest on Apr. 09, 2010 @ 6:04 am

Actually, "Actually," whatever the Guardian did in 1976 when I was 8 years old has nothing to do with what I wrote here or what the Guardian is today. That was a far more complicated incident than that persistent blurb indicates, and today, the Guardian is one of the only media outlets in Northern California that regularly stands up for workers' rights and social justice and counters corporate power and the most dangerous brands of conservatism. If you want to know where we stand, you need only read the paper to find out. This struggle is going on now, today, and the progressive movement can't afford to shun allies because of perceived sins from the distant past. 

STJ

Posted by steven on Apr. 09, 2010 @ 9:04 am

Guardian employees like Steve believe that they actually represent all the groups they claim to speak for. As the voters repeatedly show they have no interest in Guardian jibberish, but the true believer on the right and left still claims to speak for them.

Normal people pick and chose their issues and values, they are also driven by self interest, no one in the real world is going to believe all the collected revealed idiocy of the Guardian true believer. So Steve claiming that the Guardian speaks for all these people is a hoot, as the average person needs a job, and already has a religion or other values system. Most people can also see right through the Guardian's endless self interest passed off as egalitarianism.

I find the endless feeding on your own sides propaganda by the extremes very interesting, thats why I started reading these blogs. Steve complaining about the state taking rights aways as he openly wants to take rights away, amazing self delusion.

Strangely the Guardian is still managed and run by Brugman, the infamous union buster, a whole different operation today? That other operations on the goofy left like ACORN pull the same anti-union and sub minimum wage stunts(and are defended by the Guardians true believers), is interesting in that when a right wing operation plays by the same rules they are hectored endlessly. I have a relative who refused to believe how scummy Wallmart was because of the whole proclaimed religious angle, I sent her some articles and it broke her heart to stop shopping there, she has more integrity than the entire Guardian staff.

Posted by laughing at the duck on Apr. 09, 2010 @ 12:15 pm

Please do not propigate the nonsense that the actions of a few define the beliefs of all conservatives. That notion is as ridiculous as saying that a few violent protestors on the left speak to the intentions of all liberals. I do not believe IN ANY WAY that violence is ever the answer, and I do not believe in racism, and yet many of the bloggers and talking heads seem to be OK with the notion that all of us must be hate mongers. There are a few bad apples in every group, but if you understood why people were upset and what the argument is really about, you would see that all we want is for the government to get out of our private lives. All I want from the other side is to stop being called racist or evil just because I believe in personal responsibility. It is stereotyping of the sort we should be trying to prevent. Just because a person's view is different and just because they happen to be white or black or hispanic does not make their opinion more or less valid. If you want an end to the vitriol, stop spreading it.

Posted by Laura on Apr. 09, 2010 @ 9:45 am

That's a good point, Laura, and I didn't paint all conservatives with this same brush. But the problem is how many major conservative figures these days are demonizing government and liberals using provocative, demonizing language, and how that has been provoking an increasing number of people to violence. And frankly, I don't hear you or other conservatives raising your voices against it. That's a "personal responsibility" that you should feel and take seriously.

Posted by steven on Apr. 09, 2010 @ 10:58 am

I always get a laugh when right wingers say that about Muslims, Steve has joined the David Horowitz school of ranting.

Has the Guardian commented on the incident of the Black Panthers attacking that guy for tape recording at an open to the public meeting? Even a mention either way? That jabbering stooge Chris Daly has commented.

I have yet to see an article in the Guardian that even suggests that when protesting people obey the law, when one of your "reporters" was caught rioting out on the freeway you even complained about it.

So on the one hand you speak for the (endless... blah blah blah blah) and on the other you are reporters?

What a confused opportunistic world you people live in.

Posted by laughing at the duck on Apr. 09, 2010 @ 12:24 pm

Steven wrote: "McDonough wrote, echoing a troubling strain of right-wing political thought that condones violence to prevent even speculative threats of violence, a perspective that led us to invade Iraq."

This may be dismissed as a "gotcha" post by you Steven, but is it not the argument/rational of "speculative threats of violence" that has lead to troop escalation in Afghanistan by the Obama administration? (Let us remember that the Democratic Party supported the invasion of Iraq. Obama also said that he would consider the "nuclear option" on Iran--how is that not a threat?) The point that I am trying to make here is that the use of threats and violence are used by both ruling class parties, Democrats and Republicans, not only to maintain the status quo --ie: ruling class parties use of police-- but to preserve and expand ruling class interests. I think it is rather disingenuous to ascribe such use of the tactics solely to the right wing.

Posted by Guest Michael Worrall on Apr. 09, 2010 @ 11:02 am

STJ, it's easy to expect benfits and higher wages and la de da, when you are NOT the one that has to shell out for it.

Sounds a bit like "do as I say, not as I do"!

Posted by Wait just one moment! on Apr. 09, 2010 @ 11:07 am

But just to make it clear, I agree that violence is not the way to solve our problems, and call on anyone of any poitical persuasion to settle their differences by peaceful means. The conservative value is that of personal liberty, and should not be attained by taking such liberty from anyone else.

Posted by Laura on Apr. 09, 2010 @ 12:06 pm